In an election full of surprises, one of the biggest was the election of businessman Rick Scott as governor of Florida.
Coming out of nowhere, Scott—who had previously been active in the fight against nationalized healthcare—bested two statewide elected officials on his way to winning the top office in the nation’s third largest state. What is even more surprising is that Scott, having promised to govern as a consistent conservative, appears to be doing just that on the basis of his just-introduced 2011 budget.
The state’s current budget, enacted under Republican-turned-independent Charlie Crist, puts total spending for the year at $70.4 billion dollars. Scott has proposed cutting that, turning a budget that spends $65.9 billion in 2011 and $63.3 billion in 2012—a sizeable cut by most any standards. He also proposes to cut taxes by $4 billion over two years, which is also a considerable amount, considering Florida is one of the few states left without a state income tax. Included in those cuts is a plan to reduce the business tax from 5.5 percent to 3 percent as a first step toward completely phasing it out by 2018, and a $1.4 billion cut in property taxes over two years. [See the 10 best cities to find a job.]
Part of the savings will be achieved through the elimination of failing economic development programs and a plan to “carefully” expand other programs based on “measurable goals”—something of a twist on the conventional approach to government problem solving, which usually measures the seriousness of a commitment by the amount of money spent rather on the results achieved.
Like other governors, Scott is also promising to take on the issue of public pensions before it becomes a crisis, saving taxpayers $2.8 billion over two years through modernization of the state’s pension system and a new requirement that state employees fund a portion of their retirement—Florida currently is the only state where taxpayers are on the hook for 100 percent of the costs of the state’s public pensions. [Read stories about the deficit and national debt.]
Scott’s budget, which is likely to pass through the GOP-controlled legislature without too much difficulty, also presumes $660 million in savings through the renegotiation of contracts and leases—using state purchasing power as leverage—and $270 million in savings over two years through the consolidation of duplicative functions, reorganization, privatization, and the elimination of programs that are not part “of government’s core mission.”
All together, Scott has proposed an ambitious plan that puts the taxpayers’ interests ahead of the special interests, especially those within state government itself. It’s the kind of budget that the Tea Party Nation can get excited about—making it a model for what other reform-minded governors may want to do in their states. It’s clear that Scott not only got the message about what voters wanted in 2010, he’s acting on it. The mandate they gave was not to better manage the welfare state; it was to winnow it down. [See the Year in Photos: 2010.]
If he’s successful, it almost assuredly gets him on the short list for vice president in 2012 or, depending on the outcome of that election, for president in 2016.